South Africa 2017: A wry look at all the political fairy tales you’ve heard this year. BRILLIANT!

EDINBURGH — It’s been a tough year for South Africans. And, just before you pick on me for viewing developments on the tip of Africa from the low-crime comfort of a Victorian nest in relatively sleepy UK, bear in mind that I Iook up the skirts of South Africa daily. The picture that I see is far from pretty. My body is in Britain but my heart and soul are in Cape Town, where President Jacob Zuma and his evil, self-serving band of comrades have abused their Parliamentary roles to feather the nests of their families. I am cautiously optimistic new ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa can restore some dignity to South Africa’s leadership, but there are obstacles in his way – not least of all putting a stop to the calls for land grabs. Johannes Wessels, director of the Enterprise Observatory of South Africa, is in a better mood than I am as the year draws to a close. He has written a delightful piece in which he looks at developments as though South Africa in 2017 were Alice’s wonderland. Sometimes the most scary political messages are delivered under the veil of humour. – Jackie Cameron

By Johannes Wessels*

“Alice in Nasrec-land”: end-of-the-year perspectives
Johannes Wessels

It has been a taxing year … Treasury disruptions, cutting the Gordhan knot resulting in investment rating downgrades, earning from the World Economic Forum the accolade as one of the 20 countries with the worst police services, a MTEF with Gigabytes of words and a little bit of substance, and the year when the President spent more time in the Supreme Court (through his lawyers) than in Parliament … And then there were the Gupta-leaks…

It could not hold. On December 13 things came tumbling down… No, I’m not referring to the meteorite rain with its early New Year’s fireworks, but the North Gauteng High Court that brought all the facades of governance tumbling down…

I retired to the local Oog for a kuil or two… Not only to calm down, also to reflect…

How the heck did we get here? No, not at the Oog, but the country…

Our drinkskrum discussed and reflected on the confusing situation. I can’t recall whether we resolved matters, but with the wisdom that abounded we all departed home, still being confused but in a much more informed mode … Quite similar to President Zuma when formulating his arguments for High Court appearances when his legal representatives repeatedly acknowledged that there were no substance for the initial appeals…

Last Monday we again assembled at the local Oog to see who the late ANC conference had decided should form the Big Six. For a long time, we could see only moving bodies, rolling hands and singing (the TV’s volume was fortunately turned down). That scene reminded me of the story about Prince Phillip at the dance after the inauguration of Madiba in Pretoria in 1994… The Prince was intrigued by the pronunciation of his dancing partner (a member of the ANC Women’s League). She had not only Miriam Makeba’s clicks, but also rolled the “r”… When the Prince enquired whether it was customary for African women to roll their “r”’s her response was: “Only when we’re dancing…

Having turned up the volume to listen to Jacob Zuma’s Swan-umshini Wam, we followed the announcements. It was fascinating to see how Ramphosa’s broad smile changed as the next announcements came in.  One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me… It almost looked as if Cyril was losing a tooth for every Mabuza, Magashule, Duarte…

The result, hailed by some as Unity, is basically a postponement of the divorce papers… with the composition of the 80-member NEC crucial in deciphering the ANC (ante nuptial contract) on which basis the separation will take place.

Last night when reflecting on the strange occurrence of missing votes, Gert Gal remarked that the missing votes were the reason why Zuma had shunned the San-group: He feared that with their tracking skills they would easily find those votes. Koos Kwadraat said the San with all their tracking expertise would never be able to locate the cause for the late running of the whole show. Trevor Emmer reckoned that lost votes were not the main issue: that 2,360 delegates voted for Ace as Secretary General well-knowing that under his auspices the Free State could not hold a legitimate conference in 2012 or 2017 was of real concern: “those 2 360 delegates clearly lost their marbles”, Trevor observed.

Whether it was the tension, the wine, the end-of-the-year fatigue, back home I quickly collapsed into the wonder world of dreams. I dreamt of a relaxing Christmas Holiday packed with reading… Which books? I dreamt about sequels to Long Walk to Freedom… There was Long Denial of HIV/AIDS by Thabo and the trilogy by Jacob: Short Sprint to State Capture, How to keep an ANC caucus happy by non-answers and Free Tertiary Education for Illiterate Grade Fours.

There was also a wonderful book (illustrated by Zapiro) for Grade 12s who cannot read: Alice’s Captured Wonderland…  

The latter got my immediate attention. Peering through a cloud of tear gas and beyond the protesting masses, I noticed March Hare Mabuza with a leather bag stuffed with dollar notes… When asking what the dollars were for, he snorted something like “I’m going to plant them on my farm…

A few yards further I bumped into Nathi the Lizard Nhleko, a gullible fellow… I noticed with alarm that his throat was badly bleeding from a wound to the throat. Helping him from bleeding to death I could decipher from his stuttering what had occurred:  he received the cut when the surgeon operated Numba Wan for haemorrhoids…

Searching for Noxi to help me find a doctor, I learned Noxi was retired to 17 wonder-troughs filled with gravy… Onwards therefore to Shaun the Sheep who was weighed, found too light but nevertheless appointed. It dawned on me that Shaun the Sheep probably fooled some people because he displays some dog behaviour like licking, well, some body parts… The thing that distinguishes Shaun from the dogs is that dogs are accustomed to licking their own…

Eventually I found the doctor myself:  she wore a headscarf that gave her the look of a cross between an Ottoman Sultan and the Queen of Spades. She advised me to rather find one of her trusted Cubans since she was busy nursing her own wounds

About 100 meters further my search was interrupted by a very touching scene:  there in an opening was the real McCoy: Numba Wan Ubaba ka Duduzane (Jacob Zuma).  He was comforting fellow Zulu Senzo Mchunu who lost due to the missing votes.  I was really moved by the tender tones of Numa Wan: “Keep faith, Senzo, my boy,” he said, “you, rather than Eish, will eventually become President”.

How do you know, uBaba?” Senzo enquired between sniffing his tears back. “Because my son, you celebrated when the announcement came as if you had won.  Like me, you find numbers very confusing to understand when reading or hearing them. That, I think, shows you have the right mettle to become President. In your generation, it is a scarce trait. To overcome this scarcity of Presidential potential, we had undermined our education. The Grade Four-results show we are on the right tract…”  Senzo, regaining his spirit, then asked uBaba: “Please teach me: what should I learn from your announcement of free tertiary education?” Numba Wan said: “If I am to be recalled, I want to enrol at university. I noted there are many young females there wearing kanga’s.  What a pleasure with the state paying for my studies. He… he… he…

I was overcome by this scene of political education and tried to slip away when a whirlwind suddenly swept me high into the air just to put me gently down in a deep rural area.  It looked so peaceful after all the strife at Nasrec that I wondered why Mantashe had warned that the party should not just become a rural party. Was Mantashe concerned that the ANC would lose its character of in-fighting if it would become as peaceful as a rural setting?

I noticed the sign on the crooked gate said Ramabhusa’s farm, earlier belonging to Old MacDonald… It resembled somewhat an erstwhile productive sugarcane farm that was secured for a land reform project where the irrigation sprinklers and pipes were sold off, the plantations died and less-than-subsistence agriculture took over.

In one corner was Mabuza planting cash(ew) – clearly a nut case. On another section Cyril tried to plough with Ankole cattle crossed with buffalo: even the largest John Deere tractor is cheaper than this indigenous bred ploughing power. Gwede sat in Blomvlei guarding Nguni-cattle.  Eish Magashule was creaming it off with a dairy project without cows. Jesse Duarte was adjusting some documents after a tractor crash and Paul Mashatile wanted to know whether the yields would suffice to cover the party’s bills…

From left to right: Jesse Duarte (newly elected deputy secretary-general of the ANC), Ace Magashule (newly elected secretary-general), Gwede Mantashe (newly elected chairman), Cyril Ramaphosa (newly elected president), David Mabuza (newly elected deputy president) and Paul Mashatile (newly elected treasurer-general) celebrate on stage during the party’s 54th national conference in Johannesburg on December 18, 2017. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

That question had the group collapsing with laughter… Cyril ventured that there was no need for yields, since the farm was expropriated from Old MacDonald without any compensation.  When Mashatile asked about the assurances that such expropriation would not impact negatively on food security and productivity, they all held their bellies in another hilarious laughing session… Eventually March Hare Mabuza could get a word out: “Which of the ANC commitments have we ever honoured: Good Governance? No! Proper service delivery? No! Non-racialism? No!

Following another round of laughter, Eish added that he would make sure the economy would not be hurt by expropriation without compensation in the same manner that uBaba ka Duduzane successfully led the fight against corruption…  whereupon the group rolled on the ground with laughter…

That clearly created comradeship and bolstered boldness… They started toyi-toying and singing:

How the hell do they believe us?

How the hell do they trust us?

How the hell do they vote for us?

We lie, we buggers, we lie…”

The toyi-toying group went to a neighbouring farmer and started singing again whilst making a Radical Economic Transformation gesture by rolling their hands… In Polokwane it signalled a forthcoming recall, here it signalled forthcoming proletarian shopping a ka expropriation without compensation. They were joined by Mad Hatter Julius and Floydwock and resorted to a counting rhyme:

Eeny meeny, mini mow

Scare a farmer, let him go

If he protests kick him so

The land is ours we take it now

Mad Hatter said the rhyme was wrong: It should be “kill” and not “kick”. That brought another round of belly-clutching laughter.

I wanted to get away. I asked Cheshire Cat aka Zweli Mkhize:

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Mkhize Cat.
“I don’t much care where–‘ I replied. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’
said the Cat.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” I remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: `we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” I asked.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here to ANC Land.” (99% quote from Lewis Carroll’s script)

I covered my ears with my hands and ran and ran… through a landscape blossoming with decadence and inefficiency.  I ran past fat Guptapillers having a Tea Party at the Lost City after they had landed their dragonflies at Waterkloof… I ran past Tina Joemat Dead Flower staring in awe at a Russian nuclear power station that exploded into the biggest mushroom ever seen… I ran past Lynn Brown Nobody claiming to have never seen anybody never attended any meetings and not being introduced to anyone…

I ran and ran and stumbled into White Knight Maimane. He looked drained and I learnt from him that his show-jumping horse had stumbled over Zillean obstacles. Worst of all, it could not clear the township threshold as was the case again in Metsimaholo. The Red Knight hammered him into umpteenth place…

But just as he acknowledged those constraints, he started preaching about the time for change, of putting corruption where it belongs, and of his team’s excellent record without strife and corruption as shown in Mother City without Water. The only filth there could be blamed on the drought: not enough water to wash it away…

I closed my ears again and ran further and further… just to get away from it all. Then I noticed them:  the Card Men with the Executioner…

Shuddering with fear I woke up… to the nightmare of our reality

  • Johannes Wessels is Director of the Enterprise Observatory of South Africa.
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